Monday, September 28, 2009

Remember to Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

It’s a Christmas Eve feeling, this thing I’ve got. Remember when you were seven-years old and couldn’t wait for Christmas morning— so much so, that you couldn’t sleep the night before. That type of anticipation and excitement is rare for those of us who have passed the third grade. There’s an anticipatory energy one feels at that age. It’s in the air, it’s electric and it’s magical, it’s running through your body, and it’s real.

I feel it today. Christmas is 12 weeks away, and third grade is a distant memory, but the anticipation and excitement I am experiencing right now— this very second— feels the same.

It’s meat, or at least the thought of meat. And not just any meat, ribs. Coming in a very close second to ribs is steak. Oh how I love steak, let me count the ways.

Welcome to day 28 of my 30-day journey into vegetarianism. Three days left, I can’t wait.

Just a little less than a month ago, I took the PETA Challenge. The group posted a billboard in Florida with a fat woman in a bikini with the headline “Save the Whales Go Vegetarian.” Many were offended. I was amused. Somewhere along the way, I read of the PETA 30-day challenge: Go veggie for 30 days and lose weight.

I certainly need to lose weight, and not being one to back down from a challenge, I took it. So here I am, four weeks in, still alive, with all of my wits about me (my wife would disagree), still able to engage in a fairly intelligent conversation (many others would disagree), and still a vegetarian— for at least three more days.

Amazingly enough it hasn’t been too hard. That statement surprises me even as I type it. I had probably never gone two consecutive days without eating some type of meat.

What has surprised me most is that people didn’t believe me. Many thought I was just doing it as column fodder, and secretly scarfing down bacon behind the scenes. I’ve had countless people walk up to me in restaurants over the last month. “Is there any meat in that?”

I was in a Waffle House last week— that’s right, Waffle House, it’s where we vegetarians love to eat (waffles don’t have any meat in them, hash browns, either). My two children and I had finished eating and were about to get up when a gentleman and two ladies walked over to the table, “Got any sausage or bacon over there?” The Veggie Food Police are everywhere.

Much to the surprise of my family and friends, I have not cheated. Not even a bite of animal based protein. I wouldn’t even let my wife cook peas with bacon or use chicken stock in the beans.

The problem is that I haven’t lost weight. At one point over the last four weeks I was up four pounds. Today, I’m hovering at the same weight I was when I took the challenge.

I didn’t set out to prove PETA wrong. I certainly didn’t do this to gain weight. I just thought it would be a fun challenge. I will be the first to admit that I would have lost weight had I lived on a diet strictly made up of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I might have gone insane, but I would have lost weight. Instead, I ate a lot of bread, candy, and fried food— but no meat.

I haven’t missed chicken at all. Sausage? No problem. Bacon? Once or twice. Hamburgers? I mainly miss the convenience.

I want some ribs. I’d like to eat a steak, too. It pains me that I have missed the best month for soft-shell crab we’ve had in five years. I will be eating crab in three days, count on it.

While researching this column, I read where PETA planted fruit trees in honor of people who went vegetarian for 30 days. Over the last few weeks I have become pen pals with the PETA president, Ingrid Newkirk. I wonder if Ingrid will plant a fruit tree for me. And if so, what type of fruit tree does an overweight carnivore with a new respect for vegetarians warrant?

Barbara Jane’s Layered Cream Cheese Spread

2 TBL olive oil

1 /4 cup onion, minced

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 1 /2 tsp Creole seasoning

1-10 ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 /2 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1 /3 cup mayonnaise

3 Tbl sour cream

1 Tbl Creole Mustard

1 Tbl parsley, chopped

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1 /4 tsp salt

1 /2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

1 /8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 /2 cup peach or apricot preserves

1 /4 cup green onions, minced

1 /4 tsp ground nutmeg

Line a 9x5 inch loaf pan with plastic wrap.

Heat olive oil in a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat. Cook onions for 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic and Creole seasoning cooking two more minutes. Stir in spinach and blend well. Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, toasted pecans, Creole mustard, and parsley. Blend it very well, and spread half of this mixture into the bottom of the lined loaf pan.

In a separate bowl, combine one package of the cream cheese and the cooled spinach mixture. Blend well and spread over the halfed cheddar-pecan layer of the loaf.

Next, spread the remaining cheddar mixture into the loaf pan.

Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat remaining cream cheese until light and creamy. Add salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, preserves, green onions, and nutmeg. Spread final layer into the loaf pan and wrap very tightly with plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for 4-6 hours before serving (also freezes well, must thaw eight hours before serving).

To serve, sink the loaf pan into a warm water bath for 1-2 minutes. Do not let water seep into plastic and reach mold. Unmold onto serving platter and remove plastic wrap.

Yield: 20-25 appetizer servings

Monday, September 21, 2009

Zombies, and Skydivers, and Bears, Oh My

Welcome to day 21 of my 30-day journey into vegetarianism.

I have learned a lot over the last three weeks.

I have learned that there are many in-the-closet vegetarians out there, and if one writes about becoming a vegetarian, they will out themselves. They’re like zombies in a low-budget horror movie. When the sun goes down the zombies come out and wander slowly through the streets. With vegetarians, after you become one, they will show themselves to you. Vegetarians don’t wander aimlessly like zombies, but they do walk a little slower, I think it’s the lack of meat-based protein.

Note: Save the emails. I know that Zombies aren’t vegetarians. They are carnivores. They eat people. Vegetarians would never eat people.

I might be the only person in history who has successfully cited zombies and vegetarians in the same column.

I have also learned that vegetarians are like skydivers. They want to talk everyone who is not one, into becoming one. I have had several friends through the years who became skydivers. They spent half of their waking hours talking about jumping out of planes and the other half trying to convince other people into jumping out of planes. Vegetarians are the same way. They want to draw you in; it’s their passion. I respect that.

I have learned that I love ribs. No, I really love ribs. I mean I really, really love ribs. If I weren’t married I would move to Vermont and enter into a legal and binding marriage contract with ribs, right this second.

I miss bacon a little bit. I could eat a hamburger or two, and I plan on eating a ribeye steak the size of Pensacola in a few weeks. But what I dream about is ribs.

My newfound vegetarian friends have warned me to ease back into my carnivorous lifestyle at the end of the month. I trust that they know what they’re talking about. But my birthday is October 2nd and I plan on spending the entire night in Leatha’s BBQ Inn dousing myself with barbeque sauce, dancing on the tables, and eating a mastodon-sized slab of ribs— my honeymoon.

I have learned that once you announce your vegetarianism, people will send you food. I received a huge ice chest from a Canadian company called Gardein. The chest was filled with several of their products. As I write this column I am eating Gardein’s “Classic Style” Buffalo Wings.

Meat-free wings— I’m not sure what they’re made of, but they look kind of like Buffalo Wings. The package says “water, soy protein, wheat gluten, and ancient grains.” I don’t know what ancient grains are, but I think that there’s probably a reason they didn’t make it into the modern world.

Actually, Gardein’s meat-free Buffalo Wings tasted a little like what I remember Buffalo Wings tasting like. The texture was slightly off. My bookkeeper said that they tasted like the thigh of a chicken. No problem, there. I love thighs. Maybe it’s been so long since vegetarians have eaten chicken, this will suffice. Final verdict: Vegetarians will love this stuff.

My friend Jill Conner Browne took pity on me and sent a vegetarian care package filled with all-natural Indian sauces and rice products from a company called Tasty Bite. Good stuff, that.

Nine more days.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Life Through Spinach-Colored Glasses

Welcome to day 14 of my 30-day excursion into vegetarianism.

Here are some observations from the other side.

Observation 1.) I’ve actually become a carbotarian. As long as it doesn’t have a face or a tail, I’m eating it. Pancakes, French fries, bagels, hash browns, nachos, Cap’n Crunch, and cheese pizza all have one thing in common— no meat. My motto this September: No meat, I eat.

My wife said, “That’s cheating. You’re supposed to be eating only vegetables.” Who said so? I have several good friends who are vegetarians. They love pancakes and stuff like that. I’m just following their lead. No veggie burgers and soy patties for me.

Observation 2.) People walk up to me in restaurants and check my plate. “Got any meat on there?” one man said last week. Nope, just waffles, eggs, and hash browns.

Observation 3.) I forgot how much I love seafood. I don’t think I’ve ever gone 14 days without seafood. That’s 14 days with no shrimp, no fish, no oysters, and no crabmeat. No crabmeat.

The one consolation going into this challenge was that it’s been a bad year for soft-shell crab. At least I won’t be missing soft-shell crab, I thought. Wrong. After a spotty spring and summer, now in the fall, when soft-shells are usually dwindling, we’ve got abundance. It’s some type of late-season fluke that we haven’t seen since way before Hurricane Katrina. It’s killing me.

Observation 4.) Forget water-boarding, I know true torture— sitting in my restaurant eating the Vegetable Sampler— sautéed spinach, roasted asparagus, mashed potatoes, and sugar snap peas, while the table of four next to me is eating Soft-Shell Crab.

When we added all of those vegetable options to the menu, I had no idea I would be relying on them so much. I have become the best customer for the Crescent City Vegetable Sampler. Fried Green Tomatoes, Cheese Grits, and steamed broccoli don’t have a face or a tail, so they’re all fair game. Book it, October 1st, I’ll be eating soft-shell crab for breakfast.

Observation 5.) PETA, the group that has sent me hate mail for 10 years, now loves me. I received an email from the president of PETA this weekend.

Yes, people are joining you: Steve-O just did (see new blog on He has lost weight, but he did cut out the dairy and eggs too. Kind regards, Ingrid Newkirk, president, PETA

Observation 6.) The folks at PETA are obsessed with people who eat dairy and eggs.

Observation 7.) I am not going to give up dairy and eggs.

Observation 8.) If one writes in the newspaper that he is going to become a vegetarian for a month, many will follow. It’s amazing. There have been over 100 people who have written or approached me in public to tell me that they are going vegetarian with me in the month of September. Fools.

Observation 9.) People who eat fried chicken live longer. I just read an Associated Press story about the death of the world’s oldest person. Gertrude Baines died last week. She was 115-years old. The article stated that her favorite foods were, “Fried chicken, bacon, and ice cream.” I knew it.

When the doctor visited Baines last week, she only complained of two things: Pain in her right knee, and her “bacon was soggy.” Think about that, you make it 115 years, and— despite all of your potential maladies— your top priority is the crispness of your bacon. God bless that woman. There’s a special place in heaven for her, and plenty of bacon, too.

Observation 10.) I miss fried chicken

Observation 11.) No Southerner should ever have to give up fried chicken. It’s against some type of law or code we have down here, I’m sure of it.

Observation 12.) Actually, I don’t have an Observation 12; I just needed an even dozen to end the column.


Creamy Tomato Soup

18 Tomatoes, ripe

1 tsp Canola oil

1 1 /2 cup Onion, minced

1 /2 cup Carrots, shredded

1 /2 cup Celery, minced

1 Tbl Garlic, minced

1 /4 tsp Dried Basil

1 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground

1 /8 tsp Dried Thyme

1 quart Hearty Vegetable stock

2 cups Robert St. John’s Bloody Mary Mix (can substitute V-8 juice)

1 /2 cup Butter

3 /4 cup Flour

2 cups Cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and roast 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cooled remove the skin. Rough chop the tomatoes and set aside, reserving as much juice as possible. In a large heavy-duty stockpot heat canola oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, salt, pepper and dry herbs. Cook for six to seven minutes, until vegetables become tender. Add chopped tomatoes and their juice continuing to cook for 10 minutes. Stir often. Add in broth and V-8 juice and bring to a slow simmer.

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat and stir in flour to make a light blond roux. Stir the roux into the simmering mixture and continue cooking for 10 minutes.

Add cream and bring back to a simmer. As soon as soup reaches a simmer, remove it from heat and serve.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Unlikeliest Vegetarian Part I

Welcome to my life as a vegetarian, day seven. Strange things are happening.

I am living life as a vegetarian during the entire month of September. I am eating nothing with a face or a tail, and believe it or not, I’m still alive and breathing.

The following is what I have learned, so far, as a neophyte vegetarian:

1.Cinnamon rolls aren’t made from meat.

2.) Neither are French fries

3.) One can easily gain weight on a vegetarian diet (I’ve gained two pounds in one week), see numbers 1 and 2.

4.) When one announces in the newspaper they are to become a vegetarian for a while, others will follow. Many others.

5.) When others are following your eating habits, the pressure increases tenfold.

6.) Football games remind me of barbeque ribs.

7.) I miss barbeque ribs.

I am the unlikeliest of vegetarians. I don’t believe I have ever even gone two days without eating some type of meat. Correction, I have now gone seven days.

The Special Projects Coordinator for PETA sent an email on my second day. Jenny Browning stated that she was “delighted” that I had become a vegetarian. In the next paragraph she said, “Although cutting meat—and its loads of saturated fat—from your diet is likely to result in noticeable weight loss all by itself, milk and eggs are similarly laden with fat (and cholesterol), so most people get the best result by choosing to eat only plant-based foods.”

No way, sister. I’m not giving up milk. Sure milk and eggs are laden with fat, but I’ve already given up steak, ribs, bacon, and cheeseburgers— did I mention ribs? There’s no way I’m giving up milk.

I gave up drinking and other recreational vices 26 years ago. I quit smoking 14 years ago. I got married, and basically gave up sex. Now I have given up meat. Bank on it, I’m going to drink milk, and I’m going to eat scrambled eggs while I do it.

Browning went on to state, “It can be a bit challenging at first to learn to cook and eat without meat, eggs, or dairy, so our Web site,, is filled with useful information, including recipes, shopping tips, and restaurant guidance, for people who are new to vegetarian cooking and dining.” Do you see how she snuck the no-milk-and-eggs line in there, again? Now it’s implied that I’m going to give up eggs and milk. Not gonna happen.

She says that she’s sending me the PETA Vegetarian Start-Up Kit and two cookbooks, but she better hurry, I only have 23 days left.

I have also been featured on the PETA website. Talk about strange bedfellows, I’ve been getting hate mail from these guys for years. In “The PETA Files” Karin Bennett says, “for 30 days the meat-loving columnist will forgo the bacon and buffalo wings, which means that some pigs and chickens will be spared from winding up on his plate. Our advice to Mr. St. John? Stay away from dairy foods too, Seriously, you could gain two pounds just by looking at cheese fries.”

Three points:

1.) There they go with the milk thing again. What’s up with these people?

2.) Note to self- cheese fries don’t have meat. Thanks, Karin, I hadn’t thought of those.

3.) I don’t eat Buffalo wings.

I wonder if members of the Beef Council or that pork group, you know, the-other-white-meat guys, are going to send me letters and books when I come back into their fold the first day of October. Then again, maybe at the end of September, I’ll decide to go another 30 days. Stranger things have happened.

Stuffed Tomatoes

6 large tomatoes, not too ripe

2 Tbl Olive Oil

1/4 cup Shallot, minced

2 Tbl Yellow Onion, minced

1/4 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground

1/2 cup Tomato Pulp, scooped from tomatoes and chopped

1 Tbl Fresh Orange Juice

1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce

1/4 cup Pesto

1/3 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs

Remove the core of the tomatoes, and slice across the very top of the tomato.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out about one tablespoon of the pulp from each tomato and roughly chop it

Over low heat, heat olive oil in a small sauté pan. In the sauté pan, cook the shallot, onion, salt and black pepper for 5 minutes. Add the tomato pulp, orange juice Worcestershire sauce and cook 4-5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto.

Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed-out tomatoes. Sprinkle bread crumbs over tops of the stuffed tomatoes.

Prepare the grill. Cook tomatoes over direct medium heat for 5 minutes, rotating tomatoes one quarter turn and cooking for 3-5 minutes more. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings